Man exonerated by own research gets $13M for wrongful conviction in rabbi slaying

Man exonerated by own research gets $13M for wrongful conviction in rabbi slaying

A key witness in a Miami murder trial was released from prison earlier this week.

Wrongfully convicted of murdering a rabbi in 1994, a high-school dropout who served 16 years before being exonerated due largely to his own pro se legal work from prison has won one of the largest settlements in New York City history.

Now represented by a lawyer, Jabbar Collins, 42, is to get $10 million from the city to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit that was on the verge of trial. A separate state-court lawsuit against New York state was settled last month for $3 million, according to the New York Daily News and the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.).

Attorney Joel Rudin, who represents Collins, says the $13 million total ties the record amount for a wrongfully convicted defendant in New York City, reports the Associated Press. 

Working in a computerless prison library, Collins educated himself about criminal law and procedure and researched his conviction for a decade before obtaining Rudin’s help, as an earlier post details.

“I was amazed,” said Rudin in 2010, describing to the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) what his client had accomplished before the attorney came on board in 2005. “I’ve never seen anything like this. There was so much documentation.”

From prison, Collins filed what the newspaper described as a “dizzying” number of document requests. When they were denied, he appealed them; if he lost, he added his requests to those of others for whom he served as a jailhouse lawyer while incarcerated. At one point, he posed as a district attorney’s investigator recreating documents lost in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack. Routing a phone call through his mother’s home in order to record it, he got a witness to explain he had been promised help by prosecutors that wasn’t revealed to defense counsel, the WSJ reported.

Collins described to the newspaper the “stunning mosaic of what really happened,” collected piece by piece, which helped put a spotlight on alleged wrongdoing by the district attorney’s office in Brooklyn. Although a rogue prosecutor eager to “solve” a high-profile slaying is blamed for Collins’ conviction, his case provided support for claims that the office of former Brooklyn district attorney Charles J. Hynes didn’t adequately rein in prosecutors who broke the rules, reports the New York Times (reg. req.).

Rudin deposed Hynes and top assistants, and claims that prosecutors leaned on witnesses to obtain desired results, the Times reports. The DA’s office disputes that allegation.

Along with Collins, five men wrongfully convicted in a high-profile 1989 attack that nearly killed a Central Park jogger got some of the highest settlements ever paid over New York City criminal cases, according to Rudin and the Times.

An earlier New York Times (reg. req.) article about the $40 million settlement in the Central Park jogger case says the men exonerated in that case got about $1 million for each year they served in prison. Collins’ settlement adds up to about $667,000 for each year behind bars.

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